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  • Election Watch Issue 16 - 2013
    The Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe
    April 20, 2013

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    Hate speech poisons pre-election environment

    Hate speech, never far from the editorial pages of some sections of Zimbabwe’s media, has returned with a vengeance in recent weeks.

    The arrest and harassment by the authorities of MDC-T officials and others, and the response to these events by civil society and the international community, have apparently sparked these latest outbursts.

    This was reflected by the proliferation of hate language, mostly in reports and on the opinion pages of the government-controlled state newspapers.

    In March alone, for example, there were 14 articles in these state-controlled papers that contained abusive, intimidating, intolerant and false commentary against human rights defenders, mainly those figures and institutions in civil society, and particularly against human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa. Others to fall victim of this onslaught included those critical of Zanu-PF policies, among them Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono.

    Mtetwa was arrested and detained on March 17th for allegedly obstructing the course of justice and insulting police officers when she attended the scene of a police raid on the Prime Minister’s Belgravia offices where four MDC-T officials were arrested and subsequently charged with impersonating police officers.

    At the same time, the state-owned Herald carried a series of stories undermining the reputation of High Court Judge Justice Charles Hungwe and the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC).

    In the case of Justice Hungwe, The Herald stories allegedly exposed what it quoted unidentified “experts” and commentators describing as “gross incompetence” or “criminal negligence”. This initially referred to a story the paper carried claiming the judge had failed to sentence a man he had convicted of murder and armed robbery 10 years ago and who was still languishing in remand prison.

    This story followed hard on the heels of the news about the judge’s decision to grant the anti-corruption commission warrants to search the offices of three Zanu-PF ministers, specifically, Indigenization Minister, Saviour Kasukuwere, Mines Minister, Obert Mpofu, and Transport Minister Nicholas Goche.

    In all, the paper carried six news stories related to the judge’s alleged irregular conduct and four critical opinion pieces that also attacked Mtetwa and ZACC’s commissioners. Notably, the Judicial Services Commission was reported as raising questions about columnists “maligning” a member of the judiciary. But later, after Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa had submitted a report to the President on Justice Hungwe’s conduct, The Herald carried another news story (15/4) reminding its readers that the law states President Mugabe has no option but to institute an inquiry into the judge’s conduct.

    The paper’s 16 news reports of irregular activity at the anti-corruption commission also emerged after Judge Hungwe had granted the watchdog search warrants for the offices of three Zanu-PF ministers.

    Subsequently, the paper reported on the “transfer” of ZACC’s chairman of commissioners and of allegedly corrupt and irregular activities at the commission.

    In one of the four critical opinion pieces The Herald and its sister paper, The Sunday Mail, carried on the attempts by ZACC to investigate the activities of the three ministers (Sunday Mail 27/3), Reserve Bank Governor, Gideon Gono, was named as the source of information and was accused of feeding this to the four MDC-T officials arrested and detained on charges of impersonating police officers. They were accused of collecting information and compiling “dockets” on the activities of the three ministries and feeding the information to ZACC.

    In this way the state newspapers implicated Justice Hungwe in what their opinion writers described as a conspiracy to discredit the ministries under investigation, and of “collaborating” with Mtetwa’s defence counsel to have the human rights lawyer released on bail at an urgent hearing at midnight held at the judge’s farm. In its news report (27/3) The Herald suggested the circumstances in which the bail order was granted was highly irregular, citing “the absence of an official from the Attorney-General’s office”.

    Altogether, the state newspapers carried 23 news stories related to these events and 11 editorial opinion pieces and so-called news analysis. MMPZ judged that as many as 14 of these stories contained elements of hate speech where abusive and offensive language was used to reinforce their perception that the players in these events had contributed to destroying their own reputations and deserved the criticism.

    Part of the definition of hate language is its intention to excite hostility and public contempt for those individuals or groups who are its targets. Once this has been achieved it is easier to suggest the victims no longer deserve to have their basic human rights protected.

    With the help of its unidentified “analysts”, “experts”, “sources” and commentators, the state Press – and especially The Herald – set itself up as the investigators, judge and jury in their pursuit of dismantling Justice Hungwe’s reputation, and those of Beatrice Mtetwa, Gideon Gono and the ZACC commissioners.

    Reinforcing these anonymous voices in their news pages, Zanu-PF’s Politburo member Jonathan Moyo, The Herald’s political editor Caesar Zvayi and columnist Panganai Kahuni, acted as the main architects of this campaign in the opinion and analysis columns of the state papers, supported by UZ lecturer Charity Manyeruke and Gabriel Chaibva, another ZANU PF acolyte who defected from the MDC-T.

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